Eleventh hour stay of execution for village school with no pupils near Milton Keynes

A village school with no pupils has been given an 11th hour stay of execution at a meeting held to review a decision to close it.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 2:08 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 2:10 pm

The decision to refer the closure of Emberton School back to the decision maker at Milton Keynes Council came in dramatic circumstances as the committee chair was the last of five councillors to cast her vote.

“I’m left with the chair’s decision,” said Cllr Jane Carr (Lib Dem, Newport Pagnell South). “I think this is a highly emotive situation.

“I can absolutely see the business sense and I feel the community have been given a fait accompli, but I am swung by Mr Handler’s (objector’s) data. I would like that data to be reviewed.

The children and young people scrutiny sub committee in action

“I don’t think necessarily it will change the outcome but I do want Cllr Nolan to review the data.”

The decision came at the end of a 90 minute meeting of MK Council’s children and young people scrutiny sub-committee on Thursday.

It had been convened after 20 residents of Emberton called in the decision made by cabinet member Cllr Zoe Nolan (Lab, Loughton & Shenley) on November 12.

The school, although technically open, with a website, a board of governors, and “supportive group of parents and friends”, does not have any pupils.

Objectors claimed the decision had been made using inaccurate data, was wrong in process, and a public consultation was “not fit for purpose.”

With no children left, the school receives no money and costs the federation in maintenance and security, the meeting heard.

Cllr Nolan, her officials, and the Village Schools Federation, which had asked for the school to be closed, stuck with their decision.

A mediation meeting could not bring the sides together, so a committee of five councillors was convened to decide.

The deciding factor for Cllr Carr was the data from objector Christopher Handler.

“You repeatedly say there is a lack of demand, but this is wrong. Your case has been comprehensively discredited,” Mr Handler said. He was supported by two ward councillors and the parish council.But Simon Sims, the council’s strategic lead, for education sufficiency and access, said demand for the school had not been enough to fill 12 places in each of three year group since 2013.

His figures showed that in 2013 only six out of 13 children in the village put the school as their first preference. Since then, the birth rate has fallen and Mr Sims was confident that this would not improve.

Two Labour members, Cllr Norman Miles (Wolverton) and Cllr Anthony Brown (Tattenhoe) opposed the move.

After the meeting Cllr Carr said her decision gave the community the chance to have their data examined.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service was told that any confirmation decision to close the school would be made in public. But that if she decided to go ahead, it could not then be called in.